The rumours just won’t stop over the rumoured upcoming upgrades for Sony’s and Microsoft’s premier consoles; named the PS4 Neo and the Xbox Scorpio respectively, both upgrades have spawned a range of debates over the potential fears and benefits of such a transition. People who oppose the idea often claim that they’re doing a hardship to early adopters who supported their console of choice whilst also citing arguments that it somehow damages one of the biggest perceived benefits of the console space; static hardware. On the other hand, people who are more progressive towards the idea see this as a way of consoles staying relevant in an age where technology advances every single day and the old console cycle idea that we’re used to has become archaic.
The viewpoint of those who oppose the idea of the rumoured upgrades in the shape of the PS4 Neo and Xbox Scorpio is that such upgrades might lead to an escalation or some sort of ‘arms race’ between both competitors; Microsoft and Sony. For instance, a recent Dualshockers article which can be read here, in the opinion piece, Dualshockers make the argument against the rumoured Xbox Scorpio arguing that
“six teraFLOPS would mean jamming form factor, price range and heat dissipation/energy requirements something just slightly less powerful than a new GTX 1070 (at least for what concerns raw computing power) into a console.”
While this is a valid point given current technology constaints on fitting that much power into the form factor of a console, a recent leak of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) revealing a 10nm node process for a game console in its quarterly earnings for 2017. Mass production in this process will ramp up in the second quarter 2017. Needless to say, TSMC kept its lips sealed about any possible customers for the node. TSMC CEO Mark Liu did, however, speak of a console design that will rely on this new process. Since recent rumours point to a mid-to-late 2017 release date for the Xbox codenamed Scorpio, it’s not too much of a jump to piece this together and deduce that Xbox Scorpio is the likely console in question to receive this 10nm chip. This would effectively bring about increased performance, new capabilities, energy efficiency and form factor advances.
Even more bizarrely, the Dualshockers article against the idea of upgraded consoles also likens the future of consoles to the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The article also speculates that we’ll see new consoles every 2 years from the major companies but again, I see this as quite a bizarre prediction.
Wow247 takes a different line of argument and posits that the cost of console upgrades could be detrimental to their success.
“Unless you’re lucky enough to be flush with extra cash, gaming is an expensive hobby for even the most ardent enthusiast, with every purchase making a dent in the average consumer’s wallet.”
However, I take a different approach to this argument. Compared to other products that we may spend money on, consoles provide an almost unparalleled amount of entertainment and enjoyment. I dread to imagine just how many hours I’ve spent gaming on my console of choice and I believe I’ve got more than enough out of my £350 purchase. Now, I want a more powerful system to push the boundaries of what games can do, thus further enhancing the entertainment and enjoyment I get from my console.
It’s not going to be the doom and gloom that some seem to be regurgitating but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the perfect scenario either. QA or quality assurance could be a more troublesome process for developers as they’ll have to test and get certification for multiple SKUs on the market meaning it could slow down and even increase the costs of development. This will likely be worst felt by smaller studios which is why Microsoft and Sony alike have responsibilities to assist smaller studios in getting their games ready to go for multiple SKUs.
However, this might be a small price to pay for upgraded consoles in comparison to consoles falling even further behind PC. The seventh generation began on November 22, 2005 with the release of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and continued with the release of Sony Computer Entertainment’s PlayStation 3 on November 17, 2006 and lasted up until 2013 when the next flagship consoles were released by Microsoft and Sony. This puts the seventh generation of consoles as having a span of around 8 years; making it the longest console-cycle in history.
Conversely, PC progressed far beyond the console space during those 8 long years and when the new hardware from Microsoft and Sony came out in 2013, they were hopelessly underpowered; having more in common with a low-end PC than the ‘next-gen power’ we were all hoping for. As both consoles came out with underpowered hardware, the furious debate ensued since the Xbox One came out with even less power than the PS4, making the PS4 the ‘most powerful console on the market’ and thus the go-to console for many gamers in the market. What fans of both consoles fail to realize is that both Sony and Microsoft came out with underpowered machines.
Both consoles have time and time again failed to reach the coveted 1080p 60fps benchmark but it’s not all about resolution. The underpowered specs of both consoles severely limit the opportunity for developers to push the visual fidelity of games. Issues such as Fallout 4’s recent Far Harbor DLC just goes to show how poorly both consoles (with the PS4 suffering more so) handle CPU-heavy effects on screen such as fog. While resolution does help towards providing a sharp and clean image presentation, it’s ultimately the visual fidelity of a game that will push it graphically; something only attainable with better hardware than what’s currently on the market.
Rather ludicrously, Rajat Taneja, CTO at Electronic Arts claimed at the start of this console cycle that the PS4 and Xbox One “are a generation ahead of the highest end PC on the market.” The current consoles feature Jaguar core technologies that are found in low-end PC’s and even notebooks, let along high end PCs. The cores allow for modest graphics firepower but nothing close to what high end PCs are capable of.
This is where the upgraded consoles come in. The PS4 Neo and Xbox Scorpio, while unconfirmed, have both experienced specs leaks. It’s Sony’s upgrade that’s got the clearest picture painted about its specs and hardware capabilities:
The report says the PS4.5 will use the same CPU as the PS4, but each of its eight Jaguar cores will be clocked to 2.1GHz instead of 1.6GHz – a boost of 1.3. At the same time, the memory will go up from 8GB GDDR5 at 176GB/sec to the same amount of memory at a faster 218GB/sec – enough for a 24% increase in bandwidth. It’s also rumoured that AMD will also supply 14nm chips for the new PS4 Neo, improving the gains of the PS4 Neo.
On the other hand, the Xbox Scorpio seems to pull one over Sony’s upgrade with reports from Polygon suggesting that the upgrade will be more than four times as powerful as the current Xbox One on the market and 50% more powerful than the PS4 Neo. This means the current performance target for Microsoft’s Scorpio is approximately 6 teraflops.
This puts the Xbox Scorpio in line with the GTX 1070 and definitely would make it as powerful, if not more powerful, than a lot of PC configurations out there. While we haven’t got a crystal ball here at ThisGenGaming, it’s not too hard to presume that Microsoft’s machine will receive better versions of multiplatform games, with an even bigger deficit as seen in the comparisons between PS4 and Xbox One games currently.
Clearly the console manufactures are going to have to ensure that these new consoles don’t really exceed a $500 price point, since the appeal of consoles is that you don’t have to fork out as much cash as you do when building a PC but with a level of performance that the Xbox Scorpio is rumoured to offer, as well as the PS4 Neo all but ensuring every game reachers 1080p (if not higher) then developers can start putting resources towards pushing the boundaries of video games, instead of having to worry about hitting that magical 1080p on current hardware.
Console upgrades also open the door for VR compatibility. While Sony’s offering in the PSVR is compatible on the current PS4 hardware, with the assistance of a separate processing unit around the size of a Nintendo Wii, it’s not going to be able to go toe-to-toe with rival VR hardware Oculus and Vive due to the power deficit. With the PS4 Neo and any future upgrades, VR will be a much more attractive option on console because it can go toe-to-toe with PC VR. Likewise, Xbox Scorpio is also rumoured to secure VR functionality thanks to a partnership with Oculus Rift, giving Microsoft’s machine a VR solution to compete with PSVR.
Konami believes that consoles should transition towards evolutionary platforms rather than be static. This will allow for a higher install base and the opportunity for more games to come to console in the form of free to play or even traditional premium priced games that can create a healthy profit despite the high development cost. Console manufacturers should have the OS and game library become the core of what defines the platform rather than the cosmetic evolution and differing ecosystems of prior generations.
If we weren’t getting console upgrades then the console space would fall even further behind PC than it already is. It might be hard to accept but both Sony and Microsoft put out underpowered consoles in 2013 and the effects of this is already being felt on some console games. It’s doubtful that we’ll see a stop to the regurgitating of the fears people have over console upgrades but aren’t we better off looking at the bigger problem of the now-archaic traditional console cycle and instead see the benefits of upgraded hardware every 3-4 years; If console cycles were to continue being any longer than this then we’d be in the same position that we’re in now – stuck with underpowered hardware that limits the creative potential and features of our consoles of choice.
Have you got some thoughts of your own on this topic? Let us know what you’re thinking by leaving a comment below.